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The accidental academic
Author: Christina Sexton
“I never thought it would go this far,” is how Ruby Warber wryly describes her unexpected academic career. With two masters degrees now under her belt, a possible PhD on the horizon, and two prestigious, highly competitive academic scholarships to her name, Ruby’s success seems limitless.
Growing up in rural Western Australia as a descendent of the Noongar people, Ruby never had grand career plans beyond simply getting a job she liked.
“My mum told me I had to go to university, but I always backflipped about what I was going to study,” she said. “I held a lot of different jobs during high school doing things I didn’t particularly want to do. All I wanted was a job that I liked going to. Luckily, I have that now.”
Ruby has spent a number of years working for the Victorian Aboriginal Health Service (VAHS) in a range of social work and psychology roles. And it was while working at VAHS that she managed to fit in a Master of Psychology (Clinical) at ACU. Her initial aim was to qualify as a clinician to work with the Aboriginal community and close the life expectancy gap between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australians.
With this focus in mind, she began working for VAHS in a social worker role while studying part-time.
“I was mostly working with people a lot older than me who had so many profound issues,” she said. “I think they took one look at me and thought, ‘No way, you’re too young!’. But it’s so hard to help someone once problems have been going on for 20 years.
I started to see how things can start small and really snowball. I wish someone had reached out to give them the support they deserved when they were younger.”
Ruby realised she was more drawn to working with younger clients.
“With teenagers, it’s easier to bring creative energy to their therapy, which is still tricky as you’re also trying to help them,” she said. “Adolescence can really be a make or break time.”
In spite of the challenges of making work and study fit together, Ruby has always understood the importance of giving back to her community.
“Growing up in a rural area, I feel pretty lucky to have achieved the things I have,” she said. “However, I grew up with people who are just as smart and hard-working, and sometimes it can be a bit of luck. I would’ve always wanted to give back, but this is particularly why I want to work with my own Aboriginal community.”
At ACU, Ruby saw her chance to do just that and got involved in a tutoring program through the Jim-baa-yer Indigenous Higher Education Unit on the Melbourne Campus.
“I was working with students who were studying youth work, sociology or psychology,” she said. “But it quickly went beyond just reading over essays and became more of a mentoring role. Even when I left ACU, I continued on with the program and it kept me linked to the team at Jim-baa-yer who have been so incredibly supportive.”
Ruby has also spent time visiting a Victorian women’s prison to deliver psychoeducational workshops, as well as presenting sex education programs at a local high school. Known as ‘Deadly Sexy Health’, the program was created for Indigenous students after Ruby realised through her work at VAHS just how important reproductive health issues and sexuality are in adolescence.
“I was so impressed when some of the teenage girls at the school stayed back during their lunch break to ask us even more questions,” she said.
Before Ruby returns to her work at VAHS, she’s been busy completing her second masters degree at The London School of Economics and Political Science in the UK, with help from the prestigious Roberta Sykes Education Foundation Scholarship and the Chevening Scholarship.
“I really enjoyed my work as a psychologist in Australia, but it was very much about working behind closed doors,” she said. “If I want to enact change on a larger scale, then I need to learn more about health policy. My work in London has really opened my eyes to the global context of Indigenous health.”
While she has plans to continue working with Indigenous youth, for Ruby it looks like more research and a PhD is in her near future.
“Before I came to London, I just wanted to focus on developing my clinical skills. Now that I’ve had a look around and seen what other people are doing in the world, I’ve thought, ‘Oh, we can do that back in Australia as well.’ It’s given me some really good ideas. It’s funny as I really thought after my first masters, no, this is it, but things change.”
Ruby won the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Community Award in ACU’s Alumni Awards 2018. She graduated with a Master of Psychology (Clinical) from ACU.